Chris Larabee stood with his back to the bodies of his wife and child. He stared at the charred remains of his home as if in a nightmare. In fact everything he knew of home, family life and beauty stood in ashes around him.
He turned his head toward the road from Eagle Bend. A freight wagon topped the rise with his friend Buck Wilmington at the reins. The Sheriff and Doctor from Eagle Bend rose on either side of the wagon. A carriage of ladies followed.
Chris had hoped for a very private graveside service. But remembering how popular Sarah was he guessed it wasn't fair to exclude people. Sarah often had the women of her church circle out to the small ranch for quilting bees or to help make layettes for women expecting a child.
The wagon stopped and Buck climbed down. He went around to the back and unhitched his own horse leading him to the fence and secured him there.
The men unloaded the casket. The Doctor went to the bodies and gave a swift examination. Smoke inhalation is a terrible way to die.
Buck had tried to think of everything. He lined the largest casket with a blanket. Chris held his wife in his arms for the last time and kissed her goodbye before lowering her into the coffin. Buck and even brought a pillow for her head and a quilt to cover her. This done Chris kissed her charred cheek once more and the lid was secured.
He turned to his son now almost completely wrapped in white linen. He lifted Adams into his arms and hugged him as he'd hugged him before he'd gone away. He kissed his son and put him into the heartbreakingly small casket. Buck had provided a quilt and pillow for Adams too. One more kiss and the lid was on. The caskets were
lowered into the ground.
The Church women sang"When They Ring The Golden Bells". The Doctor said a few words and it was over.
The Sheriff had asked permission to look inside the dwelling. Chris turned from helping the women into their carriage to talk with the older man.
One of the things that really haunted Chris was that Sarah was always so careful about fire. The Sheriff quickly dispelled that. "Chris I know this is not the time to tell you,"he began."But this was no accident."
"There are four torches in four different places in the house."
Chris and Buck were stunned to silence. Chris nodded his head toward the house and the Sheriff knew he wished to be shown.
Sure enough, the Sheriff was right. "Who knew you were going to the horse auction,"questioned the lawman?
Buck answered,"It was no secret. We'd been planning it for months."
Chris was looking at the remains of his home. Once beloved objects were now ashes. Things Sarah had made to make their home more comfortable. Furniture he himself had made, all gone in one night.
The Sheriff looked at Chris knowing the young man well.
"Chris we'll find the person responsible for this."
"Or die trying,"Chris replied. Buck nodded in agreement.
The Sheriff rode away to catch up with the departing Doctors and mourners.
Chris and Buck painted names on the crosses that Buck brought back from town.
They decided to stay on the property that night. Both men looked at the stars not sharing conversation until Buck dozed off.
Chris couldn't remember what day it was. Couldn't remember how long he'd been in pain. The Sheriffs words put still another layer of ice around his heart. He'd find the person responsible for this if it took all of his life.
When Buck awoke the next morning Chris was gone. And Buck understood.